Myra Topliss, 19352020 (aged 84 years)

Myra /Topliss/
Death of a father
Death of a maternal grandfather
Death of a maternal grandmother
Death of a mother
Death of a sister
Burial of a mother
Note: cremated
Family with parents
Birth: September 16, 1903 Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
Death: December 18, 1967Yonkers, NY, USA
Birth: December 26, 1906 26 24 Odessa
Death: July 12, 1991Yonkers, NY, USA
Marriage MarriageSeptember 19, 1930Montreal, Canada
4 months
elder sister
Birth: January 27, 1931 27 24 Brooklyn ?
Death: May 7, 2016Ct., USA
5 years
Birth: December 4, 1935 32 28 Yonkers, NY, USA
Death: September 16, 2020Michigan, USA
Family with Anton Nissen
Anton Nissen
Birth: December 4, 1935 32 28 Yonkers, NY, USA
Death: September 16, 2020Michigan, USA
Sara Elizabeth Nissen



27 September 2020

many of you already know that my mom has died—i’m sorry to those who aren’t on social media and whom i haven’t managed to contact directly yet. and i’m so grateful to those who’ve written me over the last ten days with such wonderful stories and memories of my mom. she’s already found her way into so much of what i’ve written in my life—maybe most recognizably as the roz rosenzweig of the opening chapters of the good people of new york—and there will be more of her in the future, i know, fueled in part by the fabulous anecdotes you’ve shared with me. thank you so much.

i have pulled together a few things that i wanted to share with you. i’m still working on how to handle a photographic “life of myra”—it’s easy enough to do something like that on facebook or instagram, but i’d hoped to do something that non-social-media folks (a group to which i aspire to belong!) can see also, and i can’t figure out what the best mode of electronic distribution or display might work best. bear with me on that. but, for now, there’s an obit i wrote for the shelter island reporter that’s up online, here:

and also a teeny tiny ny times notice that is online here:
*A FAVOR TO ASK: we don’t subscribe to the print edition of the times any longer, but i would love to have a clipping of the actual newspaper version—if anyone does get a print sunday times, would you mind clipping the notice and dropping into into the mail for me? (address at bottom) i would be very appreciative! (bonus points if you have a cool-looking stamp to use on the envelope—i put them in collages!)

jay put up the most beautiful tribute to myra on facebook, and i wanted to share it with those of you who aren’t on that site:

We lost Myra — Thisbe’s mom, Sonne’s Mymy, my mother-in-law — yesterday. She died due to complications from an infection, shingles, after a years-long decline into dementia. She was just shy of 85. It was her time, maybe even beyond her time. The worldly Myra of Manhattan would’ve had little patience for the sedate, confused Myra she became here at her end in the Midwest.
Mothers-in-law get a bad rap, but my relationship with Myra was a beautiful one. Myra behaved more like Thisbe was the daughter-in-law! And I am — was — honored, astounded really, to be the one chosen, by both of the astounding Nissen women, to be their go-between.
While Thisbe and I were engaged, and then for more than a year after we were married, Myra and I lived together for part of each week. I commuted down into NYC Monday morns, and headed Upstate Thursday after work. The deal was nearly equitable: Thisbe got me 4 nights a week, Myra got me 3.
For one or two of my nights each week, Myra was out on the town. She was going to museums, to shows. Seeing real stuff, off or off-off Broadway, say, to catch Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago opposite John Ortiz in “Othello.” She thought the show was a catastrophe; she liked her Shakespeare without firearms. The next night she might make us dinner and tell me all about it, and afterwards I’d clean up. She’d try to shoo me out of her kitchen, and I’d refuse to go until the dishes were done. That was our dance.
Myra was wonderfully cultured, highly educated, and maybe the fastest walker I’ve ever chased after. Her father was a Russian Jew who fled Dnipropetrovsk and the Bolsheviks, walking across Europe to North Africa — fast walking ran in the family — and Myra helped me to know that our differences, when sitting across one another at the dinner table, are almost nil.
She taught me that whatever the margins — between a cultural Jewish girl raised in 1940s Yonkers, who then fled to the big city; and a lapsed Catholic boy grown up poor in Jersey and Florida in the 1980s, who fled to the big city — whatever our margins, they can be overcome, just as long as you’ve lived for a time in New York City.
If you never tried to make a go of it in the Five Boroughs, you were, let’s face it, a lost cause, and the saddest part for you would be that you would never even know it. Because the beauty of NYC is that it takes all kinds, and that was Myra’s beauty. NYC is not a fair place. It’s not a pretty place. It can be brutal. It can turn you mean in a hurry if you let it, and even if you don’t. But there is something to be found there for every last one of us. You just have to make a go of it, and to do that you have to move, and think, fast.
Few New Yorkers I’ve encountered have made more out of that town — and walked and thought faster in it — than the tireless Myra Harriet Nissen, 1935 - 2020. The tough thing about NYC is that it won’t miss her restlessness one whit now that she’s gone, and that’s how she’d want it. She’d want her city not to morn but to make room, without any big to-do, for the next determined girl riding the train down from Yonkers, the next new New Yorker wanting to give it an honest go in the inexhaustible city.

and, lastly, for now, i’ve written a slightly different version of the S.I. reporter obit to put up on the memorial page at michigan cremation and funeral care’s website to replace the bit that’s up there now that the facility must have written. i fear she’d be none too happy about the foregrounding of her maiden name as they have it! for those who might not know the story: her father’s last name was teplitzky, but when he came over from russia it got shortened at immigration to “topliss,” and he didn’t have enough english to know what they were getting him into. at least it wasn’t “topless”! anyway, here’s the web page there: and here’s the obituary with which i hope to replace their text. i’ll also attach it as a word document, in case that’s easier for anyone.

Myra Nissen died September 16, 2020, a few months shy of her 85th birthday. She suffered from advanced dementia and spent the last couple of years in a memory care residence in Kalamazoo, Michigan, near her family, but she was a New Yorker through and through.

Born December 4, 1935, to Jewish-Russian immigrants, Myra grew up in Yonkers and Hartsdale, NY. She briefly attended the University of Michigan but, die-hard city girl that she was, soon transferred to Columbia. An actress in her youth—her claims to fame were having done summer stock with Richard Burton and with Dustin Hoffman, the summer before he went off to film “The Graduate”— Myra didn’t pursue a stage career, though she never really left the theater or stopped performing. She held varied jobs: Myra worked at the Ford Foundation, modeled shoes for Pappagallo, wrote for Principal magazine and the Practicing Law Institute, spent years in the travel and tourism industry writing newsletters for The American Society of Travel Agents and The Greater Independent Association of New York Travel Services, read aloud to clients at the Lighthouse for the Blind, led walking tours of Harlem, served as an official Big Apple Greeter, and taught English as a second language to newly arrived immigrants in New York. She loved introducing people to the City, and to Shelter Island, where she and her husband, Tony (1938-2006), built a home in 1974 and spent nearly every weekend and summer there for thirty years. Myra hosted visitors constantly and was known to give over her homes to guests—friends, strangers, relatives and acquaintances—whether she could be there with them or not; she wanted everyone to know the places she so dearly loved.

For over a decade, Myra was a central member of Quest, a lifelong learning community in Manhattan. Four days a week she taught and attended classes in this thriving group of peer-educating seniors, and it was the Quest community and the amazing opportunities offered her there that got her through the years of caring for Tony, at home, during his long decline and death from Parkinson’s. Myra was always working on a presentation on Guastavino architecture, or the paintings of Alice Neel, doing readings for her Great Plays course, or taking on a role in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” for her enthusiastic Quest fans. Myra usually went to the theater at least three nights a week — Off-Off-Off-Broadway, workshop group subscriptions, shows in pre-preview, you name it. She saw every movie the week it was released, was a regular at New York museums, played Mahjong, took entire courses on the novels of Henry James and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and was known for her fabulous cooking. She studied French all her life and traveled extensively—as often as she could to France, where she and Tony still have many dear, dear friends.

Myra’s survived by her only child, daughter Thisbe Nissen; her especially beloved son-in-law, Jay Baron Nicorvo; and her grandson, Sonne Niscorvosen, who already shares his Mymy’s feistiness and love of theatrics. When it’s once again safe to travel, we’ll bring Myra’s ashes—and Tony’s, and those of Myra’s phenom of a one-eyed cat, Winken—to scatter over the lake at Annecy, France.

In 2019 Myra was briefly hospitalized after one of many falls. When she arrived in the Kalamazoo E.R., the staff tried to assess her condition, asking the usual questions: her name, the date, who the president was… “Oh,” she exclaimed, her face turning sour, like she’d eaten something bad, “that horrible man!” Friends have asked where they might make a donation in Myra’s honor, and she would have thought no cause more urgent right now than the Biden-Harris campaign. Otherwise, she’d’ve certainly appreciated a gift to Bideawee, where she and Jay found and adopted Winken.